I wanted to lay out how my views on the intersection between Christianity and politics have been shaped over the years. For pretty much any decision in my life, I want to go to the Bible first. I want to know how God and His people have acted and reacted throughout centuries of various circumstances and trials. When it comes to how a Christian ought to act in the arena of politics, making biblically sound decisions can simultaneously be easier and more difficult than some make it out to be.
First, these decisions are difficult because God’s people are rarely in positions of political power. In fact, all throughout the history of the New Testament period, Christians were a persecuted minority. Compared to the early church in the Roman Empire, Christians in the United States enjoy a degree of privilege and influence (though it rapidly wanes). Most of the advice within the New Testament focuses more on passive, humble acceptance of the decisions of those in power (cf. Romans 13:1-7).
Another factor that makes interpretation on this issue difficult (for U.S. citizens, at least) is that there is never a case where God’s people are living under a democratic form of government. Most of the straightforward, practical advice in Scripture deals with how to respond under radically different types of authority (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14). So, there are no passages that explicitly detail how Christians ought to conduct themselves under a democracy. What the Bible does contain, however, are numerous principles that can be easily translated into our contemporary setting.
Let me use an example from the book of James to illustrate.
Imagine you’re doing a study through James and you stumble upon the verse that describes religion as helping orphans and widows. If we try and interpret the principle in terms of how to apply it within the realm of politics, the initial reaction might be to support government subsidization. Yet, Christians could conscientiously decry such an action on the basis that throwing money at the problem can do more harm than good in both the long and short term.
At the same time, however, if a Christian backs a politician who were to consistently deny any sort of aid for the “least of these,” then he or she has likely made a poor choice. We need to try and make ourselves aware of how policy affects people. Where a policy breeds injustice, we need to do our best to back candidates who will implement just policy.
Determining how to apply the Bible to government policy, however, requires a certain amount of patience and nuance. Certain issues will be easier than others. Even when the principles are rather easily discernible, the practical application of those principles (in terms of policy decisions) may not be so readily obvious after studying the biblical text.
So, Christians should be patient and slow to criticize whenever disagreements arise. When we step into these arenas (and as Christian citizens of a democratic republic, we do have an obligation to pay attention to these matters), our highest aim needs to be truth and justice. In the Old Testament, these are central elements within God’s Law and in the Prophets. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus sought to bring mercy, truth, and justice to a nation that sorely needed them.
God cares immensely about justice. Far too often, I think that we as Christians (I am definitely including myself in this) would rather sit inside comfortable buildings, sing comfortable songs, and hear comfortable sermons rather than be the outstretched hands and feet of Christ to a lost and dying world. The Lord, through the prophet Amos, let us know how He feels about such an attitude:
Take away from Me the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice flow like water,
and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.
I am no fan of politics, and I’m certainly not a fan of politicians, but God and His Word demand that we be about the business of truth and justice. Since we have the privilege and the right to have a voice, we need to be aware of and involved in the government of our nation. We need to be spokespersons of justice and truth.
Christian, I’m afraid we have been asleep for far too long. We have been comfortable for far too long.